HHS Giving States Millions of Taxpayer Dollars to ‘Help Consumers File Complaints’ Against Their Health Plans

By Susan Jones | October 20, 2010 | 10:32 AM EDT

President Obama signs the Democrats’ health care bill into law in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, March 23, 2010. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s Health and Human Services Department on Tuesday announced nearly $30 million in grants to “help consumers see the benefits” of the Democrats’ new health care law.

Those “benefits” include helping consumers file appeals and grievances against their existing health insurance plans.

HHS says the $30 million will go to state consumer assistance programs that help Americans who have questions or concerns about their health insurance.

Specifically, the grants will help consumers:

-- enroll in health coverage;
-- file complaints and appeals against their health plans (see examples below);
-- educate consumers about their rights and empower them to take action; and
-- track consumer complaints to help identify problems and strengthen enforcement.

Claims and grievances

According to HHS’ HealthCare.gov Web site,  the consumer services division of the Arkansas Insurance Department is getting $296,659 to help consumers in various ways, including the option to "[p]repare and file claims, grievances, or appeals” against their existing insurance plans.

Likewise, Nevada is getting $240,000, part of which will provide consumers "with information and clarification of benefits and assist consumers in filing grievances, complaints, billing disputes and appeals."

Maryland's Consumer Protection Division is getting almost $600,000 to, among other things, hire additional personnel to assist in "preparing appeals and grievances, especially in cases involving medical necessity."

The Texas Department of Insurance is getting almost $2.8 million to reach out to uninsured residents "using multi-lingual materials." It also will "provide individual assistance with the filing of complaints, appeals, and grievances."

Puerto Rico's Office of the Patient’s Advocate is getting a total of $396,744, part of which will pay for seven new "grievance officers" to "resolve complaints."

Altogether, 35 states, four territories and the District of Columbia applied for and will receive grant money. (For a full summary of how each State or Territory will use their new resources, click here.)

“The Affordable Care Act’s Patient’s Bill of Rights gives people important benefits and ends the worst insurance company abuses,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in an Oct. 19 news release. “These grants will help ensure consumers’ rights are protected, and they are another way the new law is putting patients, not insurance companies, in charge of their health care.”

HHS said the $30-million in Consumer Assistance Grants have the potential to benefit millions of Americans: “These grants will fund programs that will support consumers, both now as we transition to a more competitive, patient-centered health insurance marketplace in 2014 and once that new marketplace is established.”